My Christmas rituals: 21 celebrities reveal what they do on 25 December

Noel Fielding, Sarah Millican, Jenny Agutter, Tom Kerridge, Sophie Ellis-Bextor and a host of others reveal the strange and quirky family rituals that make the big day special for them

Noel Fielding, comedian, 41

We’re not religious in my house, which is a shame in some ways, as there’s a defined set of Christmas rituals involved when you are. When I was a kid, my French grandmother used to take me to midnight mass on Christmas Eve and it always felt special and, above all, fun. There was a sense of ceremony to it and there was the added bonus that I got to stay up way past my bedtime.

Our Christmases were quite rock’n’roll: loads of family around, loud, boozy, lots of dancing. My parents had me when they were 18 or 19 so they’ve always liked a party. They see a lot of bands and they’re obsessed with the Rolling Stones – they’re the religion in our house – so every Christmas to this day we’ll put on the Stones and have a good dance about.

We used to have lots of my parents’ friends around and my cousins, who are about my age, would be there, so we’d all have a party. There’s a nine-year age gap between me and my brother Michael, so before he came along I was quite spoilt. I think it’s that working-class thing where your parents pile you high with presents that one time of year. To this day, they always insist on buying me too many presents. Even when I ask them not to get me anything, they’ll give me money – I don’t need it!

I finally had someone to share Christmas with when Michael arrived. I remember one year, when he was four, Mum and I decided to trick him: she dressed up as Father Christmas and the idea was that she’d creep around the garden while he and I watched out the window in awe and wonder – he knew it was her straight away.

We went through a stage of making art at Christmas – drawing together or making short films where Dad would be the cameraman and my mum, brother and I would act out a few scenes. We still do it some years. Five years ago my brother grew a moustache and we all teased him mercilessly. In the end we dressed him up as Freddie Mercury and got him to climb through the window before we all got up and had a dance to Queen for the camera. The idea was that we’d all been so bored until Freddie Mercury walked into our lives.

As we’ve got older, our Christmases have become a little less raucous. It’s a lot to do with the fact that neither Michael nor I have had children yet – Christmas really is for kids, isn’t it? We still stay at my parents’ place in south London. It’s a big mix of people who join us: friends, a few extended family members, and we’ve also taken to adopting all the Australians in our lives who don’t fly back there for the holidays. We take in my best friend and tour manager, who are both from there, along with a few other Aussie strays – it’s slowly becoming one of our family traditions. My mum will cook a ludicrous amount of food; she makes way too many options that none of us can possibly begin to get through.

This year we’re making a change: we’re going to Jamaica en masse – me, my girlfriend, my parents and my brother. We’ve never been away for Christmas, and I thought it would be nice to go somewhere hot and do something totally new. My mum is so excited, and my brother and I will have just finished our UK tour, so I figured it’s what we’d all need: a relaxing, hot Christmas. As long as we’re all together, it’ll be a laugh.
An Evening with Noel Fielding runs until 24 February 2015 (

Sarah Millican, comedian, 39

Sarah Millican in fancy head gear.
Sarah Millican in fancy head gear. Photograph: PR

My parents’ way of handling Christmas was, as I’ve discovered, slightly different. Every year they “sent” money to Santa for the presents. They told us how much they were sending off that year and we’d send a list that matched the figure, to the penny. I think it was supposed to make us learn the value of money from an early age. So Santa, to us, was just the very jolly delivery man who sometimes also turned up in the Fenwick’s toy department.
Sarah Millican’s Home Bird Live DVD is on sale now

Skye Gyngell, chef, 51

Skye Gyngell tastes some Christmas sprouts.
Skye Gyngell tastes some Christmas sprouts. Photograph: Sarah Lee

Often I’m so busy I don’t have a chance to get excited about Christmas until Christmas Eve – then I can really relax. Traditionally I spend Christmas Eve with old friends; we cook a glazed ham, dauphinoise potatoes and red cabbage. And then we’ll have some Vacherin and a few light clementines to finish.
Skye Gyngell is chef proprietor of Spring at Somerset House (

Sophie Ellis-Bextor, singer, 35

Sophie Ellis-Bextor in festive shades.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor in festive shades. Photograph: PR

I wasn’t aware of our Christmas eccentricities until I got married to Richard [Jones] and had to introduce him to my family. We do something called tree presents: little gifts that hang from the tree. We do main presents in the morning, and once everyone’s full of lunch and kind of lounging around, we do the tree presents. They’re very annoying to buy, because they need to be thoughtful but not too nice, and light enough to hang up. Usually they’re a bit rubbish: a printed rubber or a nice soap, and you have to have a good age range. There can be quite a few of us – up to 20: we have both our families, and then the odd waif or stray. The other thing we do, and I’m blushing slightly as I confess this, is to sing when the Christmas pudding has been lit with the brandy. We have to carry it around the house and then sing: “Here comes the Christmas pudding” to the tune of “For he’s a jolly good fellow”. I don’t really know why.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor presents Murder on the Dance Floor on New Year’s Eve from 8-10pm on BBC Radio 2

Jenny Agutter, actor, 61

Jenny Agutter on a coastal walk.
Jenny Agutter on a coastal walk. Photograph: PR

My husband is Swedish, so we celebrate Christmas on the 24th. We have traditional straw figures on the tree and a smorgasbord: herring, gravadlax, beetroot, raw egg, meatballs, cheese, hard bread. There’s a lot of schnapps and we sing Swedish drinking songs. Well, I fake most of them. On Christmas Day we have a roast goose and walk on the cliffs in Cornwall – the Christmas Day charity swim is always hysterical to watch.
Call the Midwife is on BBC1 over Christmas

Gareth Thomas, rugby player, 40

Gareth Thomas on the sofa with his family.
Gareth Thomas on the sofa with his family. Photograph: PR

My father always pretends to hate Christmas. But when we were children he was the first one waking us up, saying: “Do you think Father Christmas has been yet?” Even though I’m 40, when I’m lying in bed on Christmas morning my father will ring at about 6am and say: “Has he been to you yet?”
Proud: My Autobiography by Gareth Thomas (Ebury Press, £17),

Martin Morales, chef, 41

Martin Morales in his cowboy days.
Martin Morales in his cowboy days. Photograph: PR

I grew up in Lima, Peru, so we had traditional, religious influences. We celebrated on Christmas Eve; Christmas Day was our Boxing Day. My grandmother would send a hamper down from the Andes, including a live turkey, and the adults would give the turkey a drink of pisco before saying “bye-bye”. The adults would drink copious amounts of pisco sours, so by the time we’d get to church around 10pm they’d be pretty refreshed.
Martin Morales is founder of Ceviche and Andina

Miriam Margolyes, actor, 73

Miriam Margolyes at the lunch table.
Miriam Margolyes at the lunch table. Photograph: PR

Although we’re Jewish, my mother was quite Christian when it came to Christmas. She extended the welcome to everybody, so she’d always invite Jewish strays and patients of my father, who was a doctor, for Christmas Day. Usually we’d have about 10 people, and one of the families was the Levys, who were my father’s patients, and a very old lady who lived to 102. We also had a frightfully posh lady called Mrs Treaves who thought she was slumming it with us, but somehow mixed in with all the old East End Jews. The ritual I found most fun was defeathering the turkey, which we often got from the covered market in Oxford. My mother could draw the bird herself, and she’d serve it with chopped liver and sweet and sour cucumbers – a real fusion of English and Jewish food. We’d talk animatedly, tell jokes, listen to the King’s speech, and the next day we’d use the feet to make a ravishing turkey soup. Nowadays I don’t celebrate Christmas – I’m a militant atheist – and the idea of people spending money they can’t afford buying presents for people they don’t like doesn’t appeal. My partner Heather and I usually stay in our house in the southern highlands of Australia and try to pretend it’s not happening. We’ll watch a film, go for a walk and eat some very normal food.
Trollied continues on Mondays at 8.30pm on Sky 1

Olly Murs, singer, 30

Olly Murs on Christmas morning with his family.
Olly Murs on Christmas morning with his family. Photograph: PR

Christmas in the Murs household is full of rituals. My dad is given the job of cooking everyone bacon muffins to start the day off. Then we’ll have my sister, brother-in-law and nephew round with my aunty and uncle, cousins and Nana and Pops. We’ll take it in turns to open our presents around the tree and Mum will always cook the Christmas dinner. And it’s not a Murs Christmas without all of us falling asleep in front of an old Christmas movie.
Olly’s new album Never Been Better is out on 24 November on Sony

Tom Kerridge, chef, 41

Tom Kerridge gets the cooking started on Christmas morning.
Tom Kerridge gets the cooking started on Christmas morning. Photograph: PR

My wife Beth and I sometimes spend Christmas with her family near the New Forest. Her family home is nicknamed Christmas House and her mum really knows how to lay on the best day. But often we take our three dogs to our little place on the Kent coast, where it’s just us, for a few days. We walk on the beaches, wind blowing a gale, then retreat for hot chocolate and Terry’s Chocolate Orange. I cook Christmas dinner – something indulgent like a white truffle shaved over turkey.
Tom Kerridge’s Best Ever Dishes (Absolute Press, £21.25),

Marianela Núñez, ballet dancer, 32

Marianela Núñez enjoys a festive swim.
Marianela Núñez enjoys a festive swim. Photograph: PR

In Argentina Christmas Eve is more important than Christmas Day, so when I was younger the whole family would arrive for a proper Latino get-together. We’d have a barbecue by the swimming pool from 8pm and then at midnight we’d watch fireworks. Afterwards we would go back to the Christmas tree and all the presents would have appeared. Now I have Christmases in London and find it magical performing at this time of year.
Marianela Núñez is a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet (

Melanie Chisholm, singer, 40

Melanie Chisholm with her young brother.
Melanie Chisholm with her young brother. Photograph: PR

I suppose it’s a bit unusual but I’ve been known to go for a jog on Christmas morning – sporty to the end! My brother is Type 1 diabetic, so exercise is a good way to help him manage the turkey and potatoes that follow. Other than that we’re very traditional: presents as soon as we wake up, a buck’s fizz, and perhaps a pint of Guinness in the pub while we’re waiting for the turkey to cook. It’s always been a time to see my family. Even at the height of the Spice Girls, when we had three Christmas number ones in a row, Christmas was when we always went home. There are a few arguments along the way, of course, but that’s part of the experience.
Mel is partnering Duracell to support Barnardo’s this Christmas (£1 will be donated for every tweet and Facebook post using the hashtag #poweringsmiles)

Angela Hartnett, chef, 46

Angela Hartnett with her aunt.
Angela Hartnett with her aunt. Photograph: PR

The one thing we’ve always done, since before I was born, is to have an Italian dish made by my grandmother called anolini – little round parcels of pasta stuffed with braised veal and beef, served in a meat broth – as a starter on Christmas Day. I remember eating it as a child, but since my grandmother passed away my mum, aunt, cousins and I make it together in the days leading up to Christmas. One of us is given responsibility to prepare the filling, which takes a while. I tend to make the pasta and someone else is on broth duty. Then we bring it all together on the morning for 20 people – a proper Italian-sized family.
Angela Hartnett is chef proprietor of Murano in Mayfair and Café Murano in St James’s (

Andrew Roberts, historian, 51

Andrew Roberts with his wife Susan Gilchrist.
Andrew Roberts with his wife Susan Gilchrist. Photograph: Rex

We go on a treasure hunt on Boxing Day – 28 of us last year, as my parents have eight children between them – organised by my youngest brother and his wife. It’s fiendishly difficult and takes us on to neighbours’ land, local golf courses, the village common and so on. It’s an excuse for a long walk after so much eating and drinking, really, but does involve considerable intellectual exertion, too, so it’s good to go with someone like my wife, Susan Gilchrist, who has a crossworder’s brain. The ultimate prize is usually alcoholic, but pride is at stake.
Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts (Allen Lane, £24),

Tracy-Ann Oberman, actor, 48

Tracy-Ann Oberman and her daughter.
Tracy-Ann Oberman and her daughter. Photograph: PR

We’re Jewish, so Christmas was always a bit conflicted in our house. My mother insisted that we all do charity work on Christmas morning, but then my father, who loved all the Dickensian wonder that came with Christmas, insisted that we have a traditional lunch. Now that I have my own family, I find that I walk the thin line my parents did. We have 20 people over – I brine a turkey the night before with cloves and wine, and then we really go for it on the lunch front. We don’t have a Christmas tree, though – we have a Hanukkah bush that we throw a bit of tinsel on, and we stick a fairy on top.
Toast of London continues on Mondays, 10.50pm, on C4

Christopher Biggins, actor and TV presenter, 65

Christopher Biggins with his partner in their Christmas photo.
Christopher Biggins with his partner in their Christmas photo. Photograph: PR

We always do a personalised Christmas card, which people seem to like. This year it’s this photograph of my partner Neil and me in Fortnum & Mason’s Christmas department. Last year was a cartoon: we were on the Christmas tree, if I can remember rightly. And years and years ago, when I was on my own, I was dressed as a fairy on a No 30 bus going through London. Now that was silly because I had to have someone at the next bus stop taking the photograph as I arrived. I usually have all the presents done by 1 December, as that’s when I start rehearsing panto. I give a card and a bottle of champagne to all the cast and crew. On actual Christmas Day I’m too exhausted to host, so I go to see my goddaughters in Oxford. We start with champagne and caviar in the morning and have a wonderful lunch, but my favourite bit is going into the kitchen at 10 o’clock and picking at all the debris left over from the food.
Christopher Biggins is presenting There is Nothing Like a Dame on Christmas Day from 6-7pm on BBC Radio 2

Jack Whitehall, actor and comedian, 26

Jack and Michael Whitehall.
Jack and Michael Whitehall. Photograph: Rex

My great Christmas tradition is my father trying, and recently failing, to make me and my brothers and sisters stand for the Queen’s speech; he also insists on silence. Certainly there is to be no present-opening or cracker-pulling – the ultimate signs of disrespect. The only other real tradition we have is my dad telling us that Christmas TV has been shit ever since Morecambe and Wise. It includes any show I might happen to be involved in – the Christmas episode of Bad Education last year got a frosty reception from Whitehall Senior.
Jack Whitehall Gets Around: Live at Wembley Arena is out tomorrow. The new series of Backchat starts on BBC Two in January

Helen Macdonald, author, 43

Helen MacDonald on a Christmas walk.
Helen MacDonald on a Christmas walk. Photograph: PR

I always do a lone walk up Noar Hill, a medieval chalk quarry near my mother’s house in Hampshire. It’s famous for rare orchids and butterflies and in the summer can resemble an amateur naturalists’ convention, but on winter mornings it’s deserted. I walk uphill across rabbit tracks, past juniper bushes and frozen briars. At the crest I lean against a beech tree trunk and stare out across miles of air to the South Downs. I suppose, and more so since my father’s death, that it’s a walk about the closing of the year– a time to think of what is past, what is lost and what’s still to come.
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (Jonathan Cape, £11.99) is winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize 2014,

Rafe Spall, actor, 31

Rafe and Timothy Spall.
Rafe and Timothy Spall. Photograph: Getty Images

I’ve got two children now and I’m facing the question: when do you stop going over to mum and dad’s? The conventional Spall family Christmas is dinner on Christmas Eve with 15 family and friends. My mother makes crackers that have forfeits in them: you have to sing a song or something, and everyone dreads them. She also makes matured Christmas puddings – by the time we eat them, they’re four years old. On the 25th we have a huge English fry-up followed by a present-opening bonanza then leftovers with chips. For dessert we fry the leftover Christmas pudding in a pan with clotted cream.
Rafe Spall stars in the Black Mirror Christmas special on C4, and Get Santa, in cinemas on 5 December

Craig Revel Horwood, dancer, 49

Craig Revel Horwood in his first car.
Craig Revel Horwood in his first car. Photograph: PR

This photo shows me in my first car, a Christmas present. I remember receiving it so clearly – I loved it. I passed my driving test three years ago, so it only took 46 years to make this a reality. I grew up in Australia, so Christmas was hot. One year all my chocolates melted together in my Christmas stocking. In the 1970s the microwave changed dinner forever. My dad, who was in the navy, would make dinner in the morning, plate up a meal for each of us and put it under clingfilm with our name on top. He’d put the plates in a row by the microwave and at lunch he’d heat them. We’d line up and be served at three-minute intervals and then file off to the table. If your dinner was the first one microwaved it was pretty lonely when you sat down to eat.
Craig Revel Horwood stars in Peter Pan in Dartford, Kent, from 12 December (

Ashley Jensen, actor, 45

Ashley Jensen with a bird in the hand.
Ashley Jensen with a bird in the hand. Photograph: PR

Now that I have a five-year-old daughter I find myself trying to recreate how we had Christmas when I was little. My grandparents lived with us, and my gran made the Christmas meal, so now it has to be the same food she made: prawn cocktail as a starter, devils on horseback – it’s a 70s vibe. She used to do a trifle. I’m thinking of doing jelly with tinned mandarin segments this year.
Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death is on Sky 1 this Christmas

Observer staff

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